Tag Archives: potato

MSU Extension’s digital presence makes impact

Our Michigan State University (MSU) Extension articles are gaining attention nationally and around the world. I’d like to highlight two articles that have made an impression online and especially through social media.

Dr. Julianna Wilson, tree fruit integrator/outreach specialist in the Department of Entomology, wrote an article about the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) “Report Sightings of Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs in Your Home or Business.” This pest can cause serious damage to crops. The invasive species’ presence in our state is a high-impact issue that was able to gain the attention it deserved because of our well-established digital presence.

As of Oct. 12, this article has had 96,500 pageviews since it was posted on Sept. 25, making it the seventh most visited article on the MSU Extension website overall. On Sept. 28, we had a record 25,594 visits in a single day (primarily because of this article). (We average 11,000 to 13,000 per day with a record of just under 15,000.) On Sept. 29, that record was broken with 42,812 visits (again spiked by this visit). At its peak, these numbers were growing by 100 pageviews every four minutes. Ninety-one percent of the traffic to the article has been from mobile devices. Average read time is 4:07, which means people are taking the time to read it and absorb what they’ve read. More than 67,000 of the visits to this article have come from social media. It has spurred more than 17,000 social media interactions.

The article asks readers to report any sightings of the stinky pest to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN). Before the article was posted, there were six records of BMSB in the MISIN database. As of Oct. 13, there were 1,860 records of BMSB from Michigan and northern parts of states that border us ‒ mostly from the Toledo, Ohio, and South Bend, Indiana, regions.

Julianna said, “What these numbers tell me is that social media played a huge role in getting the word out about the article, and then the fact that the MSU Extension website is mobile friendly helped keep people there and reading the article. The last two pieces that made this a success were having an established database for collecting reports and good timing. This is the time of year when the bug moves into people’s homes and they notice it. The fact that we have this well-established reporting site (MISIN) for invasive species meant that I didn’t have to create a way for people to report numbers to me ‒ the infrastructure was already in place.

“I plan to use this data to determine where other hotspots have been forming and to get the word out to growers in those areas that if they haven’t before, they should certainly be scouting for this pest next season,” she said.

One member of our MSU Extension Consumer Horticulture Team is getting the word out about a particular poisonous fruit. Extension educator Gretchen Voyle wrote an article for the MSU Extension website “What Fruit Is Growing on My Potato Plants?

As a potato disease specialist, I was particularly drawn to the article that talks about the phenomenon that occurs when potato plants produce fruit on top of the plants. In fact, one of the first questions I was asked when I got to MSU was about tomatoes growing on potato plants. It seems that our cool July weather was responsible for the fruit’s appearance this year. The alkaloid content of these fruits puts them into the “they are edible once” category. In other words, don’t eat them!

It seems that a lot of other people are interested in this as well.

Dennis Bond, manager of Web services in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources let us know about the spread of Gretchen’s words warning people about the fruit.

Dennis said, “The article helped the MSU Extension website set a traffic record of 17,471 visits (previous record: 15,960 on June 1) though that record was broken seven days later by the article on the stink bug. It also set a social media record of 4,381 visits from social media sources, another record broken a week later. At its height in popularity, it was viewed on all major continents, in 2,040 cities across 100 countries in 63 languages.”

That gives us great perspective on the extensive reach of our MSU Extension website! Congratulations to Gretchen and to Julianna!

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Volunteerism – It’s especially strong among Extension professionals

I had a number of heartening responses to my final Spotlight message for 2009 on the many ways that people contribute to their communities and organizations beyond their financial contributions.  A point that many of them made is that our own Extension professionals are supreme volunteers, and I know that is true for so many of you and I applaud you for that.  I thought I would share one of the stories I received, not to say that this one is extraordinary, but rather to share it as one of many examples that I’ve learned about both before and after I wrote that Spotlight.  Keep in mind that this message was sent in the spirit of “here’s another example of what you were talking about” and not “see what WE’VE done.” I think Dave Stroud makes that point clear and better in his own words.

Tom, I thought I would second your thoughts about some of the unspoken time that MSUE staff devote to their communities. I am not looking for any recognition for something we did here in our office but it is a good story I would like for you to hear about.

Here in Lake City and Missaukee County we are lucky to have the MSU Beef Research Station, and as you may know there is a considerable amount of potato research done there. Each year they plant 10 acres of potatoes to research varieties, as Dave Douches and his team work hard to develop new varieties. After they take their many samples to be analyzed at the lab, the gates are opened to the community to come in and glean the potatoes that are left, probably 95% of the crop remains, all dug up and laying on the surface. Community radar seems to be able to sense this event and many calls are made to the station from the public to find out about the date the gates are open. Many individuals and organizations, pick up the potatoes to distribute to needy families or those who cannot physically do it for themselves, and of course many are looking to store/and or extend their winter supply of spuds.

Our Missaukee MSUE office has a food bank located right across the hall from our lobby door, so we know the need, and see the traffic and importance to the community that the “Cooperative Ministry Food-bank” plays in our community that has such a high unemployment rate. So the thought came to our mind to glean some potatoes to store to keep them supplied with potatoes. So one fine October morning the Station Manager Doug Carmichael allowed us in to pick before the gates were opened at noon to the public. Judy Brinks our office secretary and I picked about 30 bushels of potatoes in about an hour. With the help of my son Ty, who works at the station, and his pickup we put the potatoes in storage at my farm in a well insulated hay barn bunk. Our goal was to keep the Food Bank supplied with potatoes until Christmas. Several times a week we brought in 5 gallon pails of potatoes that the Food Bank would bag and hand out to their clients. The near zero temps in early December did not help our temporary storage, but with some improvements, we were able to keep them supplied until Christmas Eve.  It took us one lunch break, and a few minutes a week to help out, just a little, those in need.


Thanks to Dave and the Missaukee staff and to all of you for your generosity throughout the year.

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Filed under Food, health, Leadership, Nutrition, Volunteerism

Planting downhill

Larry Olsen, state program leader for agriculture, and other MSU Extension colleagues have been involved in an international Extension project with a community of potato farmers in the high Andes of Peru.  In working with the farmers, Dr. Olsen initially was perplexed by the fact that in some fields, the farmers planted the rows in their potato fields up and down the slope of the mountains rather than across the slope.  Every self-respecting Midwest farmer, and every U.S.-educated agricultural scientist, knows that planting up and down the slope leads to rapid erosion of the soil. In fact, my home state of Iowa is a beautiful landscape at this time of year as the various crops turn different shades of gold and brown in alternating strips that undulate with the rolling landscape – all in efforts to reduce soil erosion. 

So Larry asked the farmers why they would employ an agronomic practice that violates the rules we all take for granted.  The answer showed that the farmers know their environment better than folks whose base of agricultural knowledge is in the Midwestern US.  Potato fields planted at high elevation in the Andes are vulnerable to nighttime frost during the growing season.  In those altitudes where the risk of frost is low, they plant across the slope. In those altitudes where the risk of frost is high, they don’t plant potatoes. In those altitudes with “in-between” risk of frost, they plant their rows up and down the slope to allow the cold nighttime air to flow down the slopes unimpeded by the potato rows and thereby reduce the risk of frost damage to the potato plants.  We’re familiar with the notion of air drainage in Michigan because it is the phenomenon that favors apple, cherry and peach orchards on ridge tops where the cold air of late spring frosts can flow down the slope and leave the ridge tops less affected by frost damage.

Our initial response to seeing someone do something different from what we’re used to – it’s wrong, we shouldn’t do that, it will cause failure – is a natural one.  But sometimes we need to look beyond our initial response and realize that doing something different from our customs can actually improve our chances of success.  That lesson seems relevant to the redesign process we’re going through in MSUE as well.  The way we’ve done things in the past – the way we’ve been organized – has worked well for us. But we may find that doing things differently, and organizing ourselves in a different way, may help us to work even more effectively in the future.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming